Dawgs Eating Just Fine in Dog-Eat-Dog SECPosted by Greg Mitchell on February 18th, 2014
For Georgia, the “a-ha moment” seemed to come on February 6. After racing out to a surprising 4-1 SEC record (with wins over Missouri and Arkansas), the Bulldogs had lost three straight, punctuated by a loss at cellar-dweller Auburn. That looked like the end of a nice flash of a Georgia storyline. But it wasn’t. Mark Fox’s team has since reeled off four straight wins, underlining this positive streak with a quality win against Ole Miss on Saturday. This begs the question in SEC basketball circles: Is it now time to drop the second part of the “Well, Georgia is off to a good start, but they’re still not that good” sentiment that’s been discussed over the last month and a half?
At some point a sample size gets too big to be simply dismissed. It’s now mid-February and the Bulldogs are four games above 0.500 in SEC play, so we may have reached that point with this team. They haven’t compiled that record by only beating the dregs of the conference — they’ve gone 4-4 against RPI top-100 SEC teams — and they haven’t won those four games with smoke and mirrors either. Georgia has the second best field goal defense (39.4%) and rebounding rate (55.3%) in the league right now, trailing only Florida and Kentucky. This is also a young team led by sophomores Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines who should be gaining confidence. To sum it up, their solid conference play to date doesn’t appear to be a fluke.
Another consideration is that Georgia may not be far behind the cluster of SEC bubble teams. Look at Missouri and Tennessee, for example. Many think both are either in the NCAA Tournament right now or on the cusp of it. In conference play, both teams have just three solid wins: Missouri has beaten the Vols and Arkansas (twice), while Tennessee has wins over LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Georgia, on the other hand, has four solid wins as the Bulldogs have beaten Missouri, Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU. If they beat Tennessee this evening, they’ll own wins over all of the SEC’s bubble brethren. It would be hard to argue that they’re a cut below that mix of teams, regardless of record, if they possess head-to-head wins over each of them.
Still, make no mistake, Georgia is only likely to hear its name called on Selection Sunday if it wins the SEC Tournament (though the improbable likelihood of winning out makes for an interesting 20-10 record). Last year’s Alabama team is the cautionary tale for lightly-regarded teams that explode in conference play. The Tide went 12-6 in the SEC and ended up at #61 in the RPI last season, but didn’t make the field of 68. Finishing with a league record of 12-6 is a lot to ask from Georgia, and the Dawgs don’t have any notable wins outside of conference play (whereas Alabama had at least beaten Villanova). Georgia took its lumps in the non-conference to the tune of three losses to teams with RPIs worse than #140, but in a small-steps view, they’ve only lost one such game since the calendar flipped to 2014 and SEC play began (Auburn).
The overall point here is that it may now be too far into the season to keep dismissing Georgia’s SEC record as an anomaly. This idea will, however, be put to the test over the regular season’s final six games. As Seth Davis pointed out in his latest Hoop Thoughts column, the Bulldogs are entering a stretch that will reveal a lot about their legitimacy. Georgia visits Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas, and hosts Missouri. That’s a difficult slate of upcoming games, but given recent play, something tells me that these Dawgs will be just fine.